Reusable bag ordinance goes into effect in Menlo Park on Earth Day, April 22

by Contributed Content on April 20, 2013

In January, the City of Menlo Park adopted San Mateo County’s Reusable Bag Ordinance, effective Earth Day, April 22, 2013. The ordinance prohibits the distribution of single-use plastic bags by all city retailers and mandates a minimum charge of 10¢ per recycled paper bag or reusable bag provided at checkout. Retailers keep all revenue earned from bag sales

Customers can avoid the additional charge by bringing their own reusable bags, and a waiver for WIC, EBT, or CalFresh customers is allowed.  The ordinance will be enforced by San Mateo County Health inspectors. Protective bags for dry cleaning, meat, fresh produce, gifts, prepared food, and prescription medications are exempt.

Over 7 million single-use plastic bags are used annually in Menlo Park, each with an average life of only 12 minutes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 4.3 percent of these bags are recycled. Unfortunately, the majority end up in landfills, as litter in roadways, parks and other public places, or in our waterways affecting marine life and contaminating our drinking water.

plastic bags in landfill

Even biodegradable plastic bags take much longer to compost and can harm wildlife as they break into easily ingestible small pieces. Additionally, a single-use paper bag has an even larger greenhouse gas emission than a plastic bag due to the water and energy used in production. A reusable bag has the potential to replace over 600 single-use plastic bags over its lifetime, thereby reducing litter and conserving our natural resources.

Concerns have been raised over the sanitation of reusable bags; however, this issue can be avoided by using machine washable cloth. In fact, research conducted during San Jose’s 2010 Bag Ordinance concluded that a reusable bag contains fewer bacteria, or colony forming units (cfu), than common household items. A reusable bag contains 1,000 cfu, a kitchen countertop contains 144,000 cfu, and a toothbrush has up to 1,000,000 cfu!

Free reusable bags will be available at city facilities like libraries, recreation and senior centers.

A copy of Menlo Park and San Mateo County’s Reusable Bag Ordinances can be viewed on the city’s website. For more information, contact Environmental Programs at 330-6720, or email

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